Business Law & Compliance

GDPR: Time for even the smallest companies to get data-smart

5 min read

19 April 2018

With little over a month until the deadline for GDPR compliance, a recent poll conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses found more than 90% of the UK’s small firms are still not ready for the new regulation.

Coming into force on 25 May, GDPR applies to every business that processes the personal data of EU citizens, including even the smallest micro-business. However, the regulation’s article 30 exemption does recognise that many SMEs simply aren’t capturing and analysing data to an extent that would necessitate a chief data officer, or require the type of governance that data-driven companies need.

It’s hard to imagine a startup or successful enterprise in today’s e-commerce age that doesn’t regularly capture and analyse data on its customers. Yet with 5.4 million micro-businesses having operated in the UK in 2017, those exempt could easily be higher than expected. That being said, the introduction of GDPR should be viewed as an opportunity to become data-driven.

Meeting the expectations of data-aware customers

The impending legislation is a first step towards regulating the way companies can and should use the data on customers, and compliance – voluntary or otherwise – is essential for long-term success. Exempt or not, small businesses are invariably selling to consumers that now have a higher awareness of the value of their own data, and are more concerned with how companies are using it, sharing it and protecting it.

As a result, consumers have new expectations and a neighbourhood bookshop or hairdresser will soon, if not already, be held to the same standards as a supermarket with an established loyalty programme.

Don’t be daunted by data

For the smallest of businesses, the value in any data, be it financial, customer-related, or otherwise, can be easily overlooked. Many find the management of data daunting, believing they lack the time, resources and expertise to make the most out of the data they capture.

On paper, large corporations have a competitive advantage in terms of resources, and have the ability to access and analyse information. Yet with falling technology costs and new tools coming to market that display complex information in ways anyone can use, small businesses are ideally placed to unlock significant value. Huge data sets on everything from consumer spending habits to demographics are freely available, and analysis of internal data is becoming increasingly common.

Use your size to your advantage

Investing in data capture, and learning how to use it can be transformative for any small business. In fact, even against larger enterprises with deeper pockets to invest in data analysis, small businesses may have a distinct advantage in that they’re likely to be focusing on solving smaller, more focussed problems. Whether looking to improve targeted marketing efforts or find new customers, thinking about data as a tool to solve specific challenges can stop small business owners from feeling so overwhelmed.

Size is also an advantage. Faster routes to market, closer customer relationships and the ability to pivot fast, give an advantage of agility – being able to act on insights with speed. With better data capture and management implemented within the framework of GDPR, small businesses have the opportunity to become more customer-centric, gain better insight into market trends and improve customer experience.

GDPR as a starting point

GDPR is being introduced to encourage companies to think seriously about data protection, but most companies should see the new legislation as an opportunity to make positive changes and give them the impetus to improve their overall use of data and reap the associated benefits. Even businesses currently exempt from GDPR should be encouraged to observe best-practices when it comes to capturing, protecting and using the data they already have.

We’re only at the beginning of the data regulation journey. As the use of data continues to expand, it’s becoming more unsustainable for small businesses to put off incorporating data into day-to-day business processes. Those that are hesitant will at best miss out on growth, and worst may struggle to survive. GDPR should be seen as an opportunity to get the house in order and create operational efficiencies that will help businesses remain competitive and continue to grow in the future.

Mark Woodhams is EMEA managing director at NetSuite. NetSuite’s technology has helped some of the most talked about companies in the world including Deliveroo and GoPro, grow from start-up to major international business.